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Cross-Country Skiing: The Winter Workout You Should Be Doing

For an intense cardio, full body workout, take a day off the slopes and hit the trails on cross-country skis. U.S. Olympian Kris Freeman tells you how to get started.

Prep Your Body
To get the most out of cross-country skiing, it’s important to go in well-conditioned. "Cross country skiing uses just about every muscle in your body,” says Freeman. “It's one of the most demanding cardio sports in the world."

So before the snow falls, start training in any basic cardio activity, like biking, kayaking, or running. Then, once you feel good, toss in a few intervals, going hard—for 10, then 20, then 30 seconds—with two-minute breaks between sets. You’ll also want to hit the gym to develop a few key muscle groups. Strong shoulders and triceps are essential for using the poles to propel you forward, though you don’t want to be too bulky. Do a few shoulder and tricep exercises with free weights, focusing on high reps to build muscle endurance along with strength. Your core, though, is where the power is. Freeman notes that most of the propulsion comes from the abs and lower back, so strengthening those will make you a better skier.

Max Your Cross-Country Workout
Freeman has two methods for ideal Nordic ski workouts. As a newcomer, it’s best to find proper form and discover your flow with long, slow, easy distance skiing. Here, your focus is rhythm more than speed and power. It’s about getting as much as you can from every muscle at once, rather than taxing just the legs or triceps and shoulders. "When you're doing it right, it's a very coordinated, beautiful motion," notes Freeman. "Everything has to be powerful and relaxed at the same time."

The second workout style, which ups the ante by adding more intense intervals, comes into play after you’re comfortable with your rhythm. Freeman suggests doing five sets of six-minute intervals, going hard at more than 90% intensity, followed by a six-minute rest between sets. Freeman can cover about a mile and a half during the six-minute interval, but as a newcomer, aim to cover ¾ of a mile to a mile, maintaining 90% intensity throughout.

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